SC lays down guidelines for appointment of amicus curiae where there is possibility of life sentence or death sentence

Supreme Court: Noticing that where death sentence could be one of the alternative punishments, the courts must be completely vigilant and see that full opportunity at every stage is afforded to the accused, the 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, Indu Malhotra and Krishna Murari, JJ has laid down the below mentioned norms to ensure the same.

  • In all cases where there is a possibility of life sentence or death sentence, learned Advocates who have put in minimum of 10 years practice at the Bar alone be considered to be appointed as Amicus Curiae or through legal services to represent an accused.
  • In all matters dealt with by the High Court concerning confirmation of death sentence, Senior Advocates of the Court must first be considered to be appointed as Amicus Curiae.
  • Whenever any counsel is appointed as Amicus Curiae, some reasonable time may be provided to enable the counsel to prepare the matter. There cannot be any hard and fast rule in that behalf. However, a minimum of seven days’ time may normally be considered to be appropriate and adequate.
  • Any learned counsel, who is appointed as Amicus Curiae on behalf of the accused must normally be granted to have meetings and discussion with the concerned accused.

The Court was hearing a case where the Amicus Curiae was called upon to defend the accused at the stage of framing of charges on the very day he was appointed. The Court was, hence, certain of the fact that the Amicus Curiae did not have sufficient time to go through even the basic documents, nor the advantage of any discussion or interaction with the accused, and time to reflect over the matter. Thus, even before the Amicus Curiae could come to grips of the matter, the charges were framed. Not only this, but the trial itself was concluded within a fortnight thereafter and the accused was awarded death sentence in the offence relating to murder of a 9-year-old girl.

The Court, hence, said that though expeditious disposal is undoubtedly required in criminal matters and that would naturally be part of guarantee of fair trial, however, in the pursuit for expeditious disposal, the cause of justice must never be allowed to suffer or be sacrificed.

“What is paramount is the cause of justice and keeping the basic ingredients which secure that as a core idea and ideal, the process may be expedited, but fast tracking of process must never ever result in burying the cause of justice.”

It was hence, held that the Trial Court on its own, ought to have adjourned the matter for some time so that the Amicus Curiae could have had the advantage of sufficient time to prepare the matter. The approach adopted by the Trial Court may have expedited the conduct of trial, but did not further the cause of justice. In the process, the assistance that the appellant was entitled to in the form of legal aid, could not be real and meaningful.

“the entire trial was completed in less than one month with the assistance of the prosecution as well as the defense, but, such expeditious disposal definitely left glaring gaps.”

The Court, hence, set aside the conviction and directed a de novo consideration of the matter.

[Anokhilal v. State of Madhya Pradesh, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1637, decided 18.12.2019]

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